May’s Theme: Yard & Garden

April showers bring May flowers . . . . or in our case, April showers bring May showers, bugs . . . oh, and flowers too! In the month of May at Ruly, we will be discussing ways to organize the exterior of your home. We will be emphasizing simple ways to boost your curb appeal and enjoyment of your garden (indoors or out). We will also provide a little gardening 101 for those (like me) who are still learning how to maintain landscaping.

Landscaping has numerous purposes. We tend to think of only the decorative aspect. However, landscaping can also be functional. Below are 5 reasons to love your landscaping.

1.   Plants Improve Air Quality. Plants remove carbon dioxide from the air and produce oxygen. They also improve humidity and remove pollutants such as formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds. Indoor plants produce the same benefits and have been studied in office environments.

“Carbon dioxide in offices can cause tiredness and fatigue, which will be reduced by greater oxygen concentration. Plants remove airborne particles, which were found in a recent study (He et al., 2007) to be produced in significant concentrations from office printers.”

Smith, A. & Pitt, M., “Preference for Plants in an Office Environment,” School of the Built Environment, Liverpool John Moores University, UK

2.   Landscaping Can Save Energy. Strategic use of plants and landscaping can make it easier to cool and heat your home.

“Three basic landscape applications which have proven to save energy are: (1) the use of shade trees, (2) windbreaks, and (3) the use of foundation plants. . . . Deciduous trees provide summer shade, then drop their leaves in the fall. This allows the warmth of the sun to filter through their bare branches in winter and helps warm the home. . . . Vines, shrubs and certain trees can be used as espaliers (plants trained to grow flat against walls). The foliage cover insulates the wall against summer heat and cold winter winds. . . . Although hedges have been utilized for many years, their value has increased with the advent of higher fuel costs. . . . Savings of up to 23 percent have been recorded in comparing completely exposed homes and a house landscaped to minimize air infiltration.”

Powell, M.A. (1996) “Conserving Energy with Plants,” North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.

3.   Landscaping Reduces Noise. Walls, fences, hedges and fountains are all great ways to drown out unpleasant noises, such as traffic. This Old House indicates that greenery can also be used for “pscyho-acoustic” purposes, tricking the mind into thinking that the noise is less noticeable.

4.   Landscaping Reduces Crime. This is a bit counterintuitive. If you were really worried about crime, you might think that you would want your home or business as visible as possible with little to no major landscaping. At least one study has shown the opposite is true:

“Greenery lowers crime through several mechanisms. First, greenery helps people to relax and renew, reducing aggression. Second, green spaces bring people together outdoors, increasing surveillance and discouraging criminals. Relatedly, the green and groomed appearance of an apartment building is a cue to criminals that owners and residents care about a property and watch over it and each other.”

Kuo, F.E., & Sullivan, W.C. (2001). “Environment and crime in the inner city: Does vegetation reduce crime?” Environment and Behavior, 33(3), 343-367.

Note, however, that the Springfield, Missouri police department provides some tips with regard to designing your landscaping for crime prevention, including keeping tall plants away from areas that require surveillance.

5.   Plants Improve Mood. There is a powerful association between our exposure to plants and nature and our emotional well-being. Surrounding yourself in an environment full of plants will make you feel better.

“Research in environmental psychology has established that ‘nature’ . . . has at least three systematic positive effects on individuals. . . . Contact with nature in a variety of forms has been shown to (a) reduce mental fatigue . . . (b) relieve feelings of stress and arousal due to stress . . . and (c) have positive effects on mood.”

Kuo, F.E., Coley, R.L. and Brunson, L. (1998). “Fertile Ground for Community: Inner-City Neighborhood Common Spaces” American Journal of Community Psychology, 26(6) 827.

When we were discussing design last month, I paused for a moment when I read the recommendation of the “Designed to Sell” team that you plant flowers in your landscaping. Why flowers and not just attractive plants or shrubs? It turns out that flowers have a tremendous impact on our emotions.

“For more than 5000 years, people have cultivated flowers although there is no known reward for this costly behavior. In three different studies we show that flowers are a powerful positive emotion “inducer”. In Study 1, flowers, upon presentation to women, always elicited the Duchenne or true smile. Women who received flowers reported more positive moods 3 days later. In Study 2, a flower given to men or women in an elevator elicited more positive social behavior than other stimuli. In Study 3, flowers presented to elderly participants (55+ age) elicited positive mood reports and improved episodic memory. Flowers have immediate and long-term effects on emotional reactions, mood, social behaviors and even memory for both males and females. There is little existing theory in any discipline that explains these findings. We suggest that cultivated flowers are rewarding because they have evolved to rapidly induce positive emotion in humans, just as other plants have evolved to induce varying behavioral responses in a wide variety of species leading to the dispersal or propagation of the plants.”

Haviland-Jones, J., Rosario, H.H., Wilson, P. & McGuire, T.R. (2005). “An Environmental Approach to Positive Emotion: Flowers.” Evolutionary Psychology (3) 104.

There are many other reasons to love your landscaping as well that we will continue to explore this month. Please share in the comments any issues you would like to see addressed this month or your thoughts on gardening and landscaping.